The Evolution of Star Trek’s Opening Narration

Today’s distraction was reading the opening narrations of the Dark Shadows series. The following was in the list of search results for one of my searches, and I thought I’d reprint it here. It’s a little archival detective work showing how the opening narration of Star Trek changed through several drafts.

(I believe the following to be Creative Commons license Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0).)

The following is taken from “To Boldly Go: the Hurried Evolution of Star Trek’s Opening Narration” by Caroline Cubé on Tue, 2016-10-11 10:33; blog post by Doug Johnson

Arguably the most famous introductory voiceover in the history of television, Star Trek‘s “Space…the final frontier…” began to lodge itself in the collective consciousness fifty years ago. But it didn’t just spring magically from the mind of Gene Roddenberry, the series’ creator. It was crafted collaboratively over the course of a week in the summer of 1966. In anticipation of the show’s September 8 premiere, producer Robert Justman urged Roddenberry to get to work writing the opening narration that they were planning to use.

1st narration memo

August 2 saw a flurry of activity at Desilu’s Gower St. studios, as several producers sought to establish the desired tone at the appropriate length. Unfortunately, none of these memos are time-stamped, so this ordering is really just a guess, but one can glean a certain narrative progression.

Star Trek narration memo 2

A rough draft hits a couple of familiar points that will survive until the very end: “five year”; “strange new worlds.” But “regulates commerce” sounds decidedly unsexy and will not last long.

Star Trek narration memo 3

The “story” becomes an “adventure,” a “bold crew” appears, and the script promises “excitement.” But it might be the word “assigned” that’s really getting in the way here.

Star Trek narration memo 4

Producer John D. F. Black makes great progress, apparently coming up with the four opening words that are so familiar to us now. And toward the end he inserts the title of Star Trek‘s second pilot episode, “Where No Man Has Gone Before,” which was written by Samuel A. Peeples.

Star Trek narration memo 5

Black’s attempt to shorten the narration is, for the most part, a step backwards, but it does have the advantage of eliminating the awkward “United Space Ship” language.

Star Trek narration memo 6

Justman tries to be decisive, telling Roddenberry what he “should” do, but the handwritten notes at the bottom of the page belie any certitude. The notes are hard to read, but someone likes the emphasis on the word “starship.” And then there is silence, or at least no evidence of continued conversation. A week goes by without another of these memos. Perhaps they were written and discarded before they could reach UCLA, or perhaps further deliberations occurred over telephones and in offices. On August 10, Justman sent Roddenberry an even more urgent memo indicating that the narration, whatever it was, needed to be recorded very soon. 

Star Trek narration memo 7

 And suddenly here it is. Written sometime after Justman and Roddenberry spoke on the phone on the evening of August 9, the language is identical to that intoned by William Shatner at the beginning of every opening credits sequence. 

Star Trek narration memo 8

 “Space…the final frontier” regains its place at the beginning. The word “bold” returns to create the most famous split infinitive in the history of the English language. And, for the first time, the “life” being sought out, which had previously been “alien,” becomes simply “new.” Perhaps Roddenberry detected something pejorative in the word “alien,” something distasteful that was at odds with his optimistic vision. Perhaps “new” just scanned better. Whatever the case, he had, with his team of writer-producers, fashioned an introduction to his unique universe that would resonate for decades to come. All items are from the Gene Roddenberry Star Trek Television Series Collection (Collection PASC 62), available in Library Special Collections, Young Research Library, UCLA.

(100 Days of Blogging: Post 072 of 100)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.